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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Conservative Talkers and the Birther Problem

After my long absence from posting on this blog and with the multitude of issues ripe for discourse, I'm a little surprised that it is the "birther debate" that motivated me to get back in the game. Over the past few days, I have grown increasingly frustrated with otherwise intelligent conservative talkers like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and KTLK's Bob Davis. They don't get it. They seem so eager to drop this hot potato that they fail to demonstrate an intelligent understanding of the issue. But, it has occurred to me that their efforts to quickly dismiss the "birthers" only fuels the debate and fans the flames.

Specifically, talkers on right do their listeners a disservice when they fail to treat so-called "birther" concerns with a sincere interest in shining the light of truth upon them. Such quick dismissal only frustrates many who think the Constitution matters. President Obama's eligibility issue will not go away until it gets a serious hearing.

Yesterday, President Obama shocked the world by releasing a copy of his "long form" birth certificate, proving that the Anointed One was, indeed, born. (Allow me this one brief diversion to levity.)

Clearly, Obama proved that it was within his means to release the long form certificate. Like many Presidential candidates before him, he could have released this copy during the campaign. So why now? Why spend millions in attorney fees to keep this document secret, only to release it now as he launches his bid for re-election. Could it be that internal polling demonstrated a shift in public opinion and Obama's strategy to keep this issue alive was beginning to backfire?

The "birther" issue is ripe with nuances that expose the disconnect between Obama's rhetoric and his actions. He campaigned on transparency while keeping his birth certificate and school admission records secret. As president, he has been equally "transparent" when he rushed to pass and sign thousands of pages of legislation before Congressional members, let alone the public, had any chance to read them.

Obama also campaigned on the commitment to transcend politics.  Yet, his handling of the birth certificate – fueling the "birther" debate when polls benefited him and releasing the certificate when polls turned – appears motivated solely by politics.

So does the release of the long form birth certificate end the "birther problem"? Not quite. The Constitutional question of eligibility is just beginning. Article II, Section I states very simply:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
I find it troubling that so many conservative talkers have little understanding of this requirement and little interest in seeing it enforced. If we are not willing to demand that the simplest element of the Constitution be upheld, how can argue for adherence to more complex elements?

While "birthers" were first raising the question Obama's of eligibility during the 2008 campaign, the U.S. Senate was quietly addressing Senator McCain's eligibility.  Because he was born in Panama, the Senate found it necessary to address his natural born citizenship status and did so in a non-binding resolution co-sponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama:
Whereas the Constitution of the United States requires that, to be eligible for the Office of the President, a person must be a "natural born Citizen" of the United States; Whereas the term "natural born Citizen", as that term appears in Article II, Section 1, is not defined in the Constitution of the United States; Whereas there is no evidence of the intention of the Framers or any Congress to limit the constitutional rights of children born to Americans serving in the military nor to prevent those children from serving as their country’s President; Whereas such limitations would be inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the "natural born Citizen" clause of the Constitution of the United States, as evidenced by the First Congress’s own statute defining the term "natural born Citizen"; Whereas the well-being of all citizens of the United States is preserved and enhanced by the men and women who are assigned to serve our country outside of our national borders; Whereas previous presidential candidates were born outside of the United States of America and were understood to be eligible to be President; and Whereas John Sidney McCain, III, was born to American citizens on an American military base in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That John Sidney McCain, III, is a "natural born Citizen" under Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of the United States.
Note that the U.S. Senate, including Obama himself, recognized that the term "natural born citizen" holds a special meaning and that Senator McCain's status as a natural born citizen is predicated by fact the he was born to American citizens -- note the plurality of "citizens."

Also note the absence of a similar Senate resolution resolving Senator Obama to be a "natural born citizen". I find it telling that a Democrat controlled Senate sought to affirm McCain's eligibility on the basis of his parent's citizenship (both parents), but failed to do so for Obama. They publicly recognized the special meaning behind "natural born citizen" and that it isn't enough to simply be born on U.S. soil. In doing so, they exposed the problem within Obama's eligibility. His father was not a U.S. citizen and could not bestow "natural born" status to Obama's citizenship.

Article II, Section I offers the only Constitutional reference to "natural born citizen". Not even the 14th Amendment, which seeks to clarify citizenship, offers any further clarification of the "natural born" status. Since it fails to clarify it, the 14th Amendment serves to affirm the Framer's definition of "natural born citizen" as one who was born to parents who both are U.S. citizens and neither of whom are subjects of a foreign country.

Herein lies the crux of Obama's eligibility problem. The Framers were concerned about "foreigners" with allegiance, shared or otherwise, to a foreign country becoming the President of the United States. They clearly crafted the eligibility clause to ensure that there be no question to a President's loyalty by way of his citizenship.

So why are so-called "birthers" passionate about this issue? First, the Constitution matters even if it inconveniences political objectives. Second, because the questions surrounding Obama's potential dual-citizenship status and loyalties are fueled by his own actions.

Obama's formative years were spent in Kenyan schools as, arguably, a subject of the British Crown. As President, he has bowed down to Muslim dictators while shunning leaders of Allied democratic nations. One could further argue that Obama's governance is less influenced by our Founding Fathers and more influenced by foreign socialist influences. (Granted, one could argue the same for most modern Democrat politicians.)

So, where do we go from here? What is the remedy for Obama's eligibility problem?

It is unrealistic to expect the courts to strip Obama of his Presidency or Congress to impeach and convict him. Further, doing so will not undo the damage already done through signed legislation. Remember, Obama did not act alone. Senator Reid, Representative Pelosi, and their loyal congressional minions were active participants in crafting the damaging legislation. I don't see how legislative action by then-representatives of the people would be reversed by the courts or by handing the reigns of the presidency to Joe Biden. It will be far more effective and lasting to win the hearts and minds of the electorate on the benefits of conservative principles than to seek a "technical foul" on past legislation.

Still, the eligibility issue won't go away anytime soon. While Republican candidates focus on advocating conservative ideas, conservative talkers could dismiss the eligibility issue by addressing it. I'm frankly embarrassed that so few talkers understand the difference between "citizen" and "natural born citizen", or the Framer's intent for making the distinction.

I'll concede that many "birthers" held a variety of theories based on the location of Obama's birth. When someone spends millions to hide a birth certificate, it is only natural to speculate on reasons why. I suspect that fostering this speculation was one of Obama's motives behind the secrecy. The longer he kept the document secret, the wilder the speculations became.

But, there are "birthers" with legitimate concerns about adherence to the eligibility clause of the Constitution. They want to be heard. Their issue is valid -- does the Constitution matter? You cannot move on to the next topic by citing the location of Obama's birth on his birth certificate as the end of the "birther movement".

The best way for conservative talkers to advance the discourse to "more pressing" issues is to honestly explore the meaning behind "natural born citizen" and how the citizenship of Obama's father adversely affects Obama's eligibility to hold the Office of the Presidency. Recognize it. Expose it. Then you can let it be. The voters will seek their own remedy in 2012.

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